Opinion polls in Kenya serve many purposes. Their main purpose is to gauge public perception of certain key identified issues. The pollsters base their research on a small group of people that acts as a representative of the whole population.
The pollsters then analyze the data obtained scientifically. Individuals, organizations, policymakers and other stakeholders then use this processed information to make informed decisions on the identified issues. Therefore, opinion polls in Kenya play a crucial role, which also applies to other countries globally.
Types of opinion polls in Kenya
In an article entitled “All politicians secretly track opinion polls” in The Star Newspaper, Ngunjiri Wambugu outlines four types of opinion polls.
- Benchmark (baseline) polls measure where voters stand on an issue before a campaign begins, for example, the popularity of a candidate.
- Tracking polls are regular polls that monitor progress on issues a campaign is dealing with.
- Issue or message polls enable the campaign team to design public communications around an issue.
- Focus groups discussions (FGDs), which (Ngunjiri indicates) are not really polls in the traditional sense, help to determine public views on key issues.
The most popular political based opinion polls in Kenya are benchmark polls. This is especially where the popularity of any political candidate is in question.
Yet, many politicians do not properly receive opinion polls in Kenya. They downplay the polls saying that they are insufficient. However, this often occurs when the opinion polls do not favour them.
Politicians condemn opinion polls in Kenya
When the pollsters show that certain politicians are unpopular, the latter condemn them. They say all manner of bad things about the polls. Yet, most of these politicians cannot substantiate their claims.
Some politicians say that the pollsters collude with their detractors to ‘cook’ the results. Others say that the opinion polls do not reflect the ‘real situation’ on the ground. On the extreme, some declare the opinion polls in Kenya as an attempt to ‘finish’ them politically.
Yet, this does not mean that some pollsters cannot be biased or collude to cook the results.
Two of the most popular pollsters in Kenya are Infotrak and Ipsos Synovate. They often churn out opinion polls in Kenya on certain key political issues. Politicians enjoy and hate the polls by these two bodies in equal measure.
For example, the Star Newspaper reported a furious response by State House communication team on a poll by Infotrack. The poll indicated that President Uhuru would only get 44.5% of the votes in the first round and was therefore likely to face a runoff. In response, State House Director of Communications Munyori Buku had this to say,
Angela Ambitho (Infotrak CEO) is the queen of opinion poll propaganda. Just before the election season kicks in, she is recalled to position and re-position presidential aspirants and political parties. She has been in the game since 2007 and this time round, the schemes and the conspiracies are no different.
Politicians see opinion polls in Kenya as propaganda
This shows a prevailing view among many politicians that opinion polls in Kenya are nothing but propaganda.
Yet, State House commissioned a Strategic Africa opinion poll right after the Infotrack poll, which showed Uhuru’s popularity at 45.4% against Raila’s 37.1%. This was even a better result for Raila than the Infotrak poll. The Infotrak poll showed Raila’s popularity at 27.8%.
Politicians in Kenya have also in the past tried to affiliate the poll firms with the opposite political camps.
During the 2013 general elections, politicians made claims that both Ipsos Synovate and Infotrak got financial support from either Jubilee or CORD Coalitions. Jubilee affiliated politicians also regularly condemned the manager of Strategic Africa as a ‘Raila stooge’ for publishing opinion polls showing a close presidential race in 2013.
All these sentiments aim at undermining the credibility of opinion polls in Kenya and declare them a sham.
Kenyans and informed views on opinion polls
Despite that, it is important to determine if the responses Kenyans give in opinion polls are concrete. In my view, many Kenyans are not yet informed ideologically to give independent perceptions or views on politics or politicians.
They base the views they give for opinion polls on the biases they harbour, for example, political and ethnic affiliation. The media also largely shapes public opinion that informs opinion polls. Rhetoric takes centre stage in most of the public perceptions or views.